Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens by RA Spratt (Random House Australia) PB RRP $15.99 ISBN 9780857988832
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
Australian author RA Spratt made her name for her bestselling Nanny Piggins series: she has since gone on to present a new series about a girl detective Friday Barnes, who, having solved a bank robbery, uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive boarding school in the country, Highcrest Academy.
To read this latest book, it is presumed you have read the previous one for The Plot Thickens is a continuation. The story begins with four pages of ‘Previously in Friday Barnes.’ It introduces Ian whose life Friday has saved, and his father Mr Wainscott who Friday has proven was guilty of bank robbery and insurance fraud. Wainscott was sentenced to gaol but his conviction was over-turned on appeal due to a legal issue. Now he’s at Highcrest to take custody of Ian. There’s a lot to take in before this latest book gets underway.
Before long the reader learns that Friday Barnes is a precocious mini-version of Sherlock Holmes, erudite in the extreme, able to make deductions quickly and accurately based on evidence. Soon she becomes embroiled in the mystery of a missing canvas by the new art teacher, Lysander Brecht, a world famous and very wealthy artist.
There are many incidents such as this which involve Friday, all of which serve to imbue the story with a sense of melodrama. A boy is locked in a storeroom where he eats cheese and looks at nudes in art books. Friday is almost drowned and later assaulted by a whirring ceiling fan. A boy uses a crow to steal golf balls. There are more -- and more -- incidents such as this.
All through the book one finds argumentative and precocious students, and argumentative teachers. Students question their teachers and none of the teachers come across at all favourably. Friday and her best friend, the lazy Melinda, are not endearing characters. They are constantly disrespectful to and challenging of their elders. Friday, for instance, refuses to take instructions from her PE teacher, though she does suffer a punishment as a consequence. She stands up to police officers, too, though they turn out to be imposters.
The Plot Thickens is an incident-packed novel that doesn’t appear to have an over-riding plot. That this is the fifth in the Friday Barnes series indicates that it must have some fans. Suitable for readers 8 to 11 years.